Pa. bill introduced amending parole-board process

Announcing the parole bill are (from left) State Rep. Mike Vereb; Gary Gregory, brother ofvictim Ellen Robb; and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.
Announcing the parole bill are (from left) State Rep. Mike Vereb; Gary Gregory, brother ofvictim Ellen Robb; and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 08, 2013

State Rep. Mike Vereb introduced legislation Wednesday that would give crime victims and their families the right to speak directly to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole before parole decisions were made.

Technically, the proposal is known as House Bill 492. But Vereb (R., Montgomery) said at a news conference in Norristown packed with state and local officials that he was naming it the "Ellen Gregory Robb Legislation."

"Out of the tragic, horrific death of Ellen Gregory Robb, we are seeing something very positive happen," said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who was among those who worked on the legislation with Vereb and the victim's family.

Ellen Robb's husband, Rafael, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2006 killing of his wife as she was wrapping Christmas gifts at home in Upper Merion. He was given a five- to 10-year prison sentence and was due for parole in November after serving a minimum amount of time.

In early January, the Gregory family and others were surprised to learn that Robb's release date had been set for Jan. 28. Seeing him as a dangerous manipulator and a threat to the couple's daughter, Ferman, the victim's family, Vereb, State Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery), and others pushed the parole board to rescind its decision.

It was then that the Gregory family ran into conflicting provisions of the parole board code and the state Crime Victims Act. The board interpreted its code to mean victims' input could come through various channels, including written testimony.

Parole board Chairman Michael C. Potteiger met with Gary and Art Gregory, Ellen Robb's brothers, to explain that process the day before the board reversed itself and kept Rafael Robb in a state prison in Mercer County.

The legislation introduced Wednesday would amend the Crime Victims Act and would take precedence over the parole board code. The new wording would leave it up to the victim or family - not the parole board - as to whether they wanted to meet with the board.

"The board believes in the victim's right, especially in the voice in the parole process," said Potteiger, who helped write the legislation and attended the news conference. State Attorney General Kathleen Kane also was there.

So far, the only guideline envisioned is that any victim registered with the Pennsylvania Office of the Victim Advocate could make a request, Potteiger said.

State Victim Advocate Carol L. Lavery said her office expected 10 to 20 victims or their designees per month to make such requests.

Gary Gregory said the legislation was "of incredible importance" because board members would have direct insights from victims and relatives "so that they can make an educated decision and clearly see the importance, the weight, and the value of victims' feedback."

The bill will be placed on the House fast track, Vereb said, and will likely be voted out of the Judiciary Committee next week. With 53 cosponsors, he said, the bill has enough bipartisan support to pass and move quickly to the Senate.

Contact Carolyn Davis

at 610-313-8109 or, or follow on Twitter @carolyntweets.

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